There are many actions that can be taken to reveal and shine a light on corruption and collusion. This includes the use of anti-corruption laws and demanding greater revenue transparency in those industries most frequently connected to threats and attacks against earth rights defenders. To end the threats to earth rights defenders, we must expose the threats and build public demand for action. Civil society organizations and coalitions are working to investigate and expose these threats, and to put in place laws that help to stamp out corruption, which is often an underlying driver of human rights abuses.
Corruption often leads to human rights abuses, especially attacks on earth rights defenders. Anti-corruption laws can help by revealing collusion between corrupt and powerful interests, so that the driving forces behind threats to earth rights defenders can be identified.
Two U.S. anti-corruption laws have extraterritorial reach. First, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act allows the U.S. President to impose sanctions on foreign nationals, government officials, and companies responsible for significant corruption or gross human rights violations. Other jurisdictions in Europe are considering similar legislation. Second, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act allows the U.S. government to pursue criminal liability against individuals and companies that engage in corrupt acts. Both of these laws can help to reduce corruption and impunity in the natural resources sector.
Effectively implementing monitoring and controls, and promoting transparency of sourcing along natural resource supply chains may support efforts to expose collusion, and thereby fight corruption and human rights abuses. Timber, gold, and diamonds are obvious places for this work to focus, but there are others, including the supply chains of food products such as sugar, bananas, palm oil, and others implicated in large-scale land grabs.
The example of the Dinant palm oil corporation in Honduras is particularly alarming, because of the scale and severity of the violence by hitmen, military forces, and private security guards employed by the company against local community leaders and their lawyers. This case shows that when a resource is deemed to be valuable, it can become connected with corrupt and violent behavior as powerful interests seize assets.
Increasing attention is also needed to the booming extraction of minerals and metals needed in the digital age, such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese, and graphite.
A lack of information and transparency, opaque decision-making processes, and corruption exacerbate the threats against earth rights defenders. Secretive oil, gas, and mining project payments made by companies to governments, in particular, make it too easy for officials to misuse or outright steal their people’s money.
Public disclosure of the project-level payments made by companies to governments for the extraction of natural resources shines a light on how this revenue is being used. A number of mechanisms exist to promote revenue transparency in the extractive industries, most notably the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. National legislation – such as Section 1504 of the Dodd Frank Act in the United States – help to implement revenue transparency. Oil and gas trade organizations have dedicated substantial resources to lobby governments to keep this sort of information secretive. It is essential that civil society organizations continue to defend and strengthen these laws and initiatives.